Written and photographed
By Jude Thaddeus Bautista
Beneath the flickering light of the screen, she sways. Moving slowly swinging her hips, arms, shoulders, in a smooth sexy rhythm…in high heels. Her eyes are on the screen above her, plucking the harp the way she plucks at men’s hearts. She moves to the music she makes, a sight to behold.
Even in the near darkness of the Shang Cineplex movie theater, we were all captivated with watching her. We would’ve been forgiven if we forgot there was actually a silent film we had to watch. The enchanting jazz music by Helouise La Harpe on the electric harp, Ryan Villamor (keyboards) and percussionist Aldous Castro was more than enough entertainment.
The fest ran from August 31 to September 3, 2017, featured a total of 9 Silent films from 9 different countries accompanied by esteemed musicians from the local scene. Opening the fest is EL GOLFO (1918) from Spain- Instituto Cervantes on 8 PM August 31 with music by TALAHIB.
September 1st Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND (7:30 PM) from the U.K.- British Council with music by GOODLEAF; THE NEW ENCHANTMENT (9:30 PM) from France accompanied by Helouise La Harpe. September 2nd A PERFECT FAMILY (3 PM) from Italy- Philippine Italian Association / Emb. of Italy with live score by TOM’S STORY; Yasujiro Ozu’s DRAGNET GIRL (5:30PM) from Japan – Japan Foundation with live narration from benshi Ichiro Kataoka and music by THE CELSO ESPEJO RONDALLA; Gym Lumbera’s TAGLISH (8PM) from the Philippines – FILM DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES with music by KAPITAN KULAM. September 3rd CAFÉ ELECTRIK (3PM) from Austria with music by RIVERMAYA; PANDORA’S BOX (5:30 PM) from Germany – Goethe Institut Philippinen with music by SANDWICH and Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (8PM) from the U.S.A with music from FLIPPIN SOUL STOMPERS.
The choice for Helouise La Harpe was actually perfect for the story of (English title The New Enchantment) L’INHUMAINE (1923) from FRANCE in more ways than one. The story involves Claire Lescot a captivating opera diva, played by Georgette Leblanc who was the most sought after beauty of her time. Her suitors were among the most powerful and famous men: A Maharajah – Djorah de Nopur (Philippe Hériat), an intellectual revolutionary – Wladimir Kranine (Léonid Walter de Malte) and the mysterious Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain) who keeps his true profession away from prying eyes. The description of being inhuman comes in, as nothing these men did to please or capture her attention seems to satisfy her.
Percussionist Aldous Castro had several instruments at his disposal to produce a lot of different sound effects. But one of the most unique is The Hang (‘the hand’ in Swedish/German). It looks like a giant wok inverted with circular indents. He is able to hit it with one hand and control the vibrations with the other. There are wide varieties of sounds it emits that contribute to the mood of the scene.
In between scenes keyboardist Ryan Villamor would bark out moods and tempo. Among the silent film titles L’INHUMAINE had the feature of having different colored tints from shot to shot. Sometimes it would be sepia, green and of course the usual black and white. Cristina Moricca of PIA (Phil. Italian Association) shared a previous talk by cinema historian Nick De Ocampo. He said that these tints were an indication of mood for the scene, which was used in the silent era. Villamor also said that these indicators were quite helpful to the musicians. For modern viewers it could be disorienting, it takes some getting used to; imagine a feature length Katy Perry music video.
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier there’s a strong fantasy element to the film with elaborate sets. Claire’s home for example was palatial with pools and fountains complete with servants. In the story, Einar was so distraught by Claire’s perceived rejection he drives his car off the cliff. In spite of news spreading of the suicide, Claire decides to go on with her scheduled concert.
The theater hall was filled with spectators, and after one rabble-rouser heckles her for the suicide (for being inhuman) the whole crowd turns and chaos ensues. Just as people were about to mob Claire she begins to sing. In real time Helouise La Harpe also begins to sing in French. The mob that was about to tear Claire apart was so moved by her voice they begin to calm down. The live audience in Shang Cineplex were similarly moved by Helouise’ jazzy, hypnotic voice. By the end of the song the theater was in a rapturous applause for Claire and trouble had been averted.
This was one of those cinematic moments that evoke a deep emotion and stays with you. Made all the more special by a unique live performance. It doesn’t matter that it’s from a French film from nearly a hundred years ago. You don’t have to know or understand everything. All you have to do is watch, listen, the way Helouise was feeling the story, the music, with her body just moving to it.
Apart from the electric harp and her sexy moves, Helouise hid her most emotional tool: her voice, for the climactic scenes, including one dialogue where she sang as Claire spoke of love. There was an incredible applause after the film as she enchanted everyone in the cinema.
She is of French and Vietnamese descent. Her name is pronounced (with a silent H in the beginning) EH-LOO-WEES LA-HARP. Emb of France Audio Visual Attaché Martin Macalintal ‘discovered’ her while performing at the Makati Shang Rila Hotel’s French Week. He has earned high praises for acquiring her talents for the Intl Silent Film Festival Manila.
We converged in our favorite bar downstairs BROTZEIT, which has German, European and a lot of unique beers on tap as well as the best German cuisine. This is where Ryan Villamor spoke of ‘controlled improvisation’. Each musician had instructions on the mood and sound for the sequences at the same time the element of jazz gave them space to improvise.
Evidence of the power of Helouise’ performance, renowned abstract painter and portraitist Allan Cosio was so moved he gifted her with an impromptu sketch at BROTZEIT. He instructed Helouise to pose across the table. In a few minutes of strokes in charcoal he was able to produce a portrait that she warmly treasured.
Cosio also happens to be the father of Ina Avellana-Cosio of the FDCP and Intl. Silent film Festival Manager. Ina’s grandfather on her mother’s side is National Artist for Film Lamberto Avellana.
All in all it was a magical night that started with controlled improvisation in the cinema and ended with an impromptu portrait session in BROTZEIT.
UNDEGROUND from the British Council with GOODLEAF
Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND may have been the most technologically advanced (as far as camera work) not just in this batch but from the silent era. The quality of the digital restoration also seems better than films of later eras in the 30s or 40s for example. I’m unsure how much of it was the restoration or the image quality the filmmakers were able to achieve. Whichever the case UNDERGROUND was certainly ahead of its time.
Asquith was able to build suspense and emphasize emotion through camera movement, even editing. This was not commonly utilized in most silent film. The underground station will seem very familiar to today’s audiences. Its mind boggling to think that the underground has celebrated its centenary and is still very much in use today as it was back then. The tunnels to the trains, factories, even the power plant shows a London that was the very first industrialized city/nation in the world.
The very urban, industrialized theme of the film is perfect for the synth and electronic sound of GOODLEAF. Their sound is a rich combination of electronica and even reggae. This is a combination most commonly heard in the 1980s not unlike British band from the era: UB40. But GOODLEAF has its own updated twist with trip-hop and has their young fans that were also drawn to the screening. Their music gives the viewing experience of UNDERGROUND a more current interpretation that helps people today appreciate the film in a way they normally wouldn’t.
EL GOLFO from Instituto Cervantes with Talahib
El Golfo from Spain on the other hand pulls on the heartstrings. Ernesto is a street urchin who turns his life around and makes good abroad. This is similar to the OFW stories here in the Philippines. The drama comes when he tries to win back his childhood love whose parents supported his education and success abroad.
The combination of the film with band Talahib was very successful. Talahib uses native instruments like the hegalong along with drums, guitars and chimes. So the original Filipino sound mixed with the Spanish film results in something unique but at the same time we’re used to since the Philippines is a product of all these influences.
For Pinoy viewers the subtitles in Spanish had a lot of words in the Filipino language, so there’s that also that common bond. From everyday words like hijo, hija, noche, amigo to longer words like ignorante, origen, memoria, la muerte.
The band is composed of vocalist Janis Ann Añonuevo, Noel Taylo (percussion), Burn Belacho (guitar, hegalong), Mark Estandarte (bass), Domeng Molina (percussion), Jones De Vera (percussion), Darrel Roberto (drums) and Max Celada (percussion).
Percussionist Max Celada is also a member of the esteemed theater group Tanghalang Pilipino along with partner Sheenly Gener. I was able to photograph the couple on the last day of the ISFFM in Shang.
Sheenly was not able to catch Max’s performance with Talahib because she was shooting a film entitled SI APPLE, SI CHEDENG AT SI ELVIE. The Cinema One produced film has Gloria Diaz and Elizabeth Oropesa as its stars co directed by Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada. Sheenly can also be seen in the upcoming DORMITORYO in QCinema directed by Emerson Reyes.
“Men wished to lay fortunes at her feet, and celebrities vied with each other to be seen and photographed with her. Tribute was collected from men of rank and fame, the most famous actors wished to have her as their partner, producers and directors couldn’t wait until they could work with her, and her circle increased to include the top writers and creators of her day. Dukes and generals and even the heads of nations wanted her to grace their tables. One journalist, quoted in one of the many books devoted to her, not only raved about her beauty but ‘rated her brains on a par with those of Napoleon, Caesar, Mussolini and Lenin’. Opposed to this pinnacle of glory was her position on my stage. Here was no enthusiast, but a cold-eyed mechanic critical of every movement.
If there was any flattery, it was concentrated in a ‘That’s fine, it will do.’ More often she listened to ‘Turn your shoulders away from me and straighten out … Drop your voice an octave and don’t lisp … Count to six and look at that lamp as if you could no longer live without it…Stand where you are and don’t move; the lights are being adjusted’.” One gets the sense that von Sternberg loved the exposure and the success their relationship brought them, but his intimate relationship with Dietrich was becoming increasingly complex. Writer James Hancock describes the connection between screen icon and director in his article ‘The Brilliant Doomed Romance of Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg’. The quote from Von Sternberg is from his autobiography FUN IN A CHINESE LAUNDRY.
Filipino audiences have the great privilege of catching a very rare screening of Marlene Dietrich’s early work CAFÉ ELECTRIK with live music by RIVERMAYA in the 11th Silent film festival for free on September 3rd, 3pm at the Shang Cineplex, Shang Rila Plaza Mall. Entry/ seats are available on a first come first served basis so check schedules and come an hour early.
The fest running from August 31 to September 3, 2017, features a total of 9 Silent films from 9 different countries accompanied by esteemed musicians from the local scene. Opening the fest is EL GOLFO (1918) from Spain- Instituto Cervantes on 8 PM August 31 with music by TALAHIB.
September 1st has Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND (7:30 PM) from the U.K.- British Council with music by GOODLEAF; THE NEW ENCHANTMENT (9:30 PM) from France accompanied by Helouise La Harpe. September 2nd has A PERFECT FAMILY (3 PM) from Italy- Philippine Italian Association / Emb. of Italy with live score by TOM’S STORY; Yasujiro Ozu’s DRAGNET GIRL (5:30PM) from Japan – Japan Foundation with live narration from benshi Ichiro Kataoka and music by THE CELSO ESPEJO RONDALLA; Gym Lumbera’s TAGLISH (8PM) from the Philippines – FILM DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL OF THE PHILIPPINES with music by KAPITAN KULAM. September 3rd has CAFÉ ELECTRIK (3PM) from Austria with music by RIVERMAYA; PANDORA’S BOX (5:30 PM) from Germany – Goethe Institut Philippinen with music by SANDWICH and Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL (8PM) from the U.S.A with music from FLIPPIN SOUL STOMPERS.
MUST SEE from every country
Every title from every country has its own ‘must see’ attraction. The Japan Foundation for example will bring in a benshi or traditional narrator Ichiro Kataoka combined with the very Filipino classical musical sounds of THE CELSO ESPEJO RONDALLA. They will be performing to DRAGNET GIRL (1933) from one of Japan’s most revered filmmaker in Yasujiro Ozu.
The International Silent Film Festival Manila on its 11th edition has garnered some praise from abroad. Pordenone Silent Film Fest programmer and VARIETY film critic Jay Weissberg said, “One of the wonderful things about the festival in Manila is that everything is accompanied by live music exactly in the way these films were originally screened. Music too is an important part of any silent film. The program that you will be seeing is also exceptional. You have wonderful films, one of my favorites Anthony Asquith’s UNDERGROUND a truly terrific drama, thriller. The program goes beyond Europe and the United States of course Japan. And relatively more recent films from the Philippines prove that filmmakers even today are experimenting with the pure visual beauty of what it means to make a silent film as always with live music.”
Weissberg is referring to the recent work of Gym Lumbera’s TAGLISH (2012) and from Filipino-Italian filmmaker Ruben Maria Soriquez: Una Familia Perfetta A PERFECT FAMILY (2017).
Two Female Icons Plus
Two countries have set themselves apart by having a strong female icon in their cast. Austria has CAFÉ ELECTRIK from 1929 with Marlene Dietrich. Viewers have the chance to see a rare glimpse of the screen legend before she achieved stardom.
Dietrich is considered to be the ninth-greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema as ranked by the American Film Institute. In the same list on the male side is Buster Keaton ranked 21. One of Keaton’s biggest films THE GENERAL (1926) is also part of this fest as an entry from the U.S.. Soul and funk music from FLIPPIN SOUL STOMPERS will accompany the biggest budget action comedy movie of its era.
The second female icon is from a German film: Louise Brooks (as Lulu) stars in George Wilhelm Pabst’s PANDORA’S BOX (1929). Goethe Institut Philippinen has likewise chosen a high stature band in SANDWICH to provide the live score. Both RIVERMAYA and SANDWICH are established Filipino bands with a long list of hits. RIVERMAYA guitarist/vocals Mike Elgar has said that they will be choosing from their library of music and play the best songs to fit the soundtrack for CAFÉ ELECTRIK.
First Female-to-Female Kiss
Marlene Dietrich was born in December 27, 1901 in Schöneberg, now a district of Berlin. Her screen name is a combination of her given name Marie Magdalene with a nickname Lena. So the pronunciation is MAR-LEE-NA. She came from a cabaret background in 1920s Berlin that was a more open and tolerant scene.
She was used to wearing men’s clothes. She made quite a splash with her Hollywood film MOROCCO (1930) wearing a tuxedo, top hat and tails. She capped off those moments with the first ever female-to-female kiss in the lips on the silver screen. The 30s were also the time when talkies became popular where sound had accompanied film.
Biographer Steven Bach said, “I still think that’s the most startling star introduction in the history of motion pictures. Marlene was the first great star to be created in the sound era. And how did he (Josef Von Sternberg) do it? She sings a French song from the turn of the century, dressed in men’s clothes. Turns, gives a very obvious lesbian kiss to another woman…This was the Marlene Dietrich he wanted us to remember.”
Later on she would deny ever making a silent era film, although she did at least two in Europe. She eschewed being identified with the older silent era stars. “Only Garbot and Gish made silent films , I never..” That’s why her appearance here in the Austrian made CAFÉ ELECTRIK is a very special and rare opportunity for Filipino audiences. They will be able to compare her performance from that time to her more popular and known film work.
PANDORA’S BOX in 1929 actually predated MOROCCO and was more significant going beyond a mere kiss. Louise Brooks was an American who was cast in a German production. Director George Wilhelm Pabst describes her, “Brooks had both innocence and the ability to project sexuality without coyness or premeditation.” And for the character of Lulu, this magical combination was essential. [From: The Style Essentials: Louise Brooks written by Kimberley Truhler]
It would be years later when PANDORA’S BOX would be recognized for breaking barriers: “This film is notable for its frank treatment of modern sexual mores, including one of the first screen portrayals of a lesbian. Brooks then starred in the controversial social drama Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), based on the book by Margarete Böhme and also directed by Pabst, and Miss Europe (1930) by Italian director Augusto Genina, the latter being filmed in France, and having a famous surprise ending. All these films were heavily censored, as they were very “adult” and considered shocking in their time for their portrayals of sexuality, as well as their social satire.” [From: Louise Brooks Wikiwand]
Creatively PANDORA’S BOX was also considered as a landmark achievement in terms of the visuals. The lighting, mood made it a precursor to the famous film noir genre. Kimberley Truhler writes, “G.W. Pabst is a legend of early cinema. The composition of his shots was elegant and ahead of its time, especially when combined with the lighting of cinematographer Gunther Krampf. Together they used shadows to create drama and, especially toward the end of Pandora’s Box, a somewhat sinister mood. Some scenes in the movie included filtering light through window blinds, which would later become a staple of film noir style. In the 1930s, directors like Josef von Sternberg continued to refine the look; his cinematography with Lee Garmes and James Wong Howe for 1932’s Shanghai Express, for example, shows even more of the evolution. And when film noir hit its stride in the 1940s, directors Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity), Carol Reed (The Third Man), Michael Curtiz (Mildred Pierce), and Alfred Hitchcock (Notorious) all admitted their admiration for Pabst and Pandora’s Box. “There’s no question,” says Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller, “that German Expressionism was one of the strongest roots from which film noir grew.” [ from: The Style Essentials: Louise Brooks written by Kimberley Truhler]
Bob Cut and Jean Patou
Louise Brooks had a unique style all her own. She had a very distinctive short bob cut that became a trend and was copied by other actresses of her time. But its impact can still be seen today, such as Katie Holmes and Linda Evangelista. “Other fashion trends that stem from the movie include Jean Patou’s tank dress, which became a staple of 1930s style and resurged in popularity once again in the 1990s. Pandora’s Box fan Calvin Klein included them in collection after collection that decade. And Prada is still remembered for dressing Uma Thurman in one for the 1995 Academy Awards. At this year’s Oscars, we saw another 20s-30s trend with jewelry draped down the back of some stars, which brought to mind Patou’s bejeweled razor back dress for Lulu.”
The same article continues, “Lending to Lulu’s seduction are the all-important costumes of Pandora’s Box. Though the wardrobe was overseen by (and credited to) Art Director Gottleib Hesch, Louise’s clothes were courtesy of Jean Patou. Patou is one of the legendary European couturiers of the early 20th century, already dressing Louise and other international stars such as Gloria Swanson both onscreen and off. Along with Coco Chanel, he is considered the inventor of our modern casual attire, especially in the area of sportswear.”
Both Louise Brooks and Marlene Dietrich were known to have many lovers, men and women. But they seem to prefer men, having a greater number and more intimate male sexual relationships. Dietrich’s biographers seem to agree with this and in Brooks’ case her own memoirs.
But it’s the lesbian angle that seems to titillate a lot of fans, even historians who have studied their lives. For example, Dietrich’s female lovers have included a lot of high society names, movers and shakers in Hollywood.
“Sewing circle was a phrase used by Dietrich to describe the underground, closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses and their relationships in Hollywood. In the supposed “Marlene’s Sewing Circle” are mentioned the names of other close friends such as Ann Warner (the wife of Jack L. Warner, one of the owners of the Warner studios), Lili Damita (an old friend of Marlene’s from Berlin and the wife of Errol Flynn), Claudette Colbert, and Dolores del Río (whom Dietrich considered the most beautiful woman in Hollywood). The French singer Edith Piaf was also one of Dietrich’s closest friends during her stay in Paris in the 1950s, and always rumored something more than friendship between them.” [From: Marlene Dietrich- wikiwand.com]
Neither Bi nor Lesbian
The sources for most of Dietrich’s intimate details of her life are from her daughter Maria Riva who wrote tell all book and biographer Steven Bach. Brooks however, was more open about her past, with a few interviews and even through her own writing.
“Brooks enjoyed fostering speculation about her sexuality, cultivating friendships with lesbian and bisexual women including Pepi Lederer and Peggy Fears, but eschewing relationships. She admitted to some lesbian dalliances, including a one-night stand with Greta Garbo. She later described Garbo as masculine but a “charming and tender lover”. Despite all this, she considered herself neither lesbian nor bisexual:
I had a lot of fun writing ‘Marion Davies’ Niece’ [an article about Pepi Lederer], leaving the lesbian theme in question marks. All my life it has been fun for me. … When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian… I have done lots to make it believable […] All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with [Christopher] Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves, for reasons of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls – they did nothing for me [From: Louise Brooks – wikiwand.com ]
Dietrich’s Modern Marriage
Dietrich however, had a rapacious sexual appetite that would make Madonna look ‘Like A Virgin’. Brooks was more just unlucky in love. She was unable to marry the great love of her life in George Marshall. Brooks became a noted film critic and writer later on.
In 1923 Dietrich married Rudolph Sieber and had her daughter Maria a year later. Maria Riva in an interview for the documentary NO ANGEL – A LIFE OF MARLENE DIETRICH, said, “Ménage trois we understand. But ménage quatre (4) and ménage cinq (5) was very normal in our house.” Steven Bach added, “Dietrich had a famous affair with Douglas Fairbanks and it was reported the two moved in with Rudy (Sieber) and his girl friend. These two were modern people even by today’s standards”.
NO ANGEL – A LIFE OF MARLENE DIETRICH
Dietrich would even show the letters of her lovers to Sieber. He would have a mistress later on in life with the knowledge of Marlene who at one time brought them to California. Sieber and Dietrich although living apart, would remain formally married until the time of his death in 1976.
In 1930 she made her first film with Josef Von Sternberg, THE BLUE ANGEL and the same year MOROCCO. The brilliant director was madly in love with her. The problem was she tended to have affairs with co-stars, which broke his heart. They continued to make films 7 in total, some argue is the most successful team up of actor director creatively. Their best work was undoubtedly with each other as Dietrich shot to stardom after MOROCCO.
Because of her fame the Third Reich had offered Dietrich to come back home to Germany and produce propaganda films. To this Dietrich flatly refused despising what the Nazis had done to her homeland.
“In the late 1930s, Dietrich created a fund with Billy Wilder and several other Germans to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, her entire salary for Knight Without Armor ($450,000) was put into escrow to help the refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In December 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and Dietrich became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.”
“During two extended tours for the USO in 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, the UK and France, then went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometers of German lines, she replied, “aus Anstand”—”out of decency”. Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower.” [From: Marlene Dietrich- wikiwand.com]
For the Cause
The documentary also dealt with her war efforts, “Narrator: It wasn’t just her talent she gave. Fact was she was willing to lay her body for the cause. A dedication extended to fulfilling the servicemen’s fantasies. [Footage of Dietrich surrounded by crowds of servicemen, sometimes crowd surfing them]
Riva said, “It was part of the romanticism. If you were going to face death don’t you want to live one time? Really magnificently before you face death? Right? She felt that if a young man, a soldier from Arkansas, the South, somewhere, would sleep with a movie star who was beautiful and giving and loving. Was that not the proper way to prepare for the mourn of his demise?” Narrator: She didn’t restrict herself with enlisted men she had a long affair with James Gavin the youngest general in the army. He was described as a cross between ‘Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper’.
Her affair with Gavin would be the cause of her rift with her long time lover, French man Jean Gabin. Even in later years she was still capable of seducing co-stars. “Ex lover Michael Todd directed AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, the 54 year old Dietrich had 3 others in the cast who claimed to be her old flame: George Raft, David Niven and Frank Sinatra.”
For her War efforts Dietrich received the Medal of Freedom, from the U.S. in November 1947. She said this was her proudest accomplishment. She was also awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French government for her wartime work. She would become the first woman and German to receive the Israeli Medallion of Valor in 1965, “in recognition for her courageous adherence to principle and consistent record of friendship for the Jewish people”.
Dietrich was the true embodiment of glamor. To this day we continue to be fascinated with her work in film, as singer and recording artist but even more with how she lived her extraordinary life.
The 11th International Silent Film Festival is made possible in partnership with Shangri-La Plaza, Para sa Sining, the National Film Center of The Museum of Modern Art of Tokyo, the Embassies of Italy, Japan, and Spain, Filmoteca de España, Institut Français, JEC Philippines and Marks & Spencer London . All screenings will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Watch and listen as we score the silents again!
For more information on the schedule and inquiries, please check our Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/InternationalSilentFilmFestivalManila or you may also check our websites:
Embassy of Austria :
The Japan Foundation, Manila
Embassy of France
Embassy of the USA
The 11th International Silent Film Festival is made possible in partnership with Shangri-La Plaza, Para sa Sining, the National Film Center of The Museum of Modern Art of Tokyo, the Embassies of Italy, Japan, and Spain, Filmoteca de España, Institut Français, JEC Philippines and Marks & Spencer London . All screenings will be open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Watch and listen as we score the silents again!
Written and photographed
By Jude Bautista
The first time I met Soxie Topacio was a few years back in PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association). He was directing HIMALA the Musical and was there for a rehearsal. Naturally he was barking directions left and right. But as soon as you start talking to him he had a ready smile was warm and accommodating. Although the only time he could spare for a brief interview was through a cigarette break. I told him I remembered his work in DUPLEX on TV and that made him smile.
When news broke last July 21, 2017 that Soxie Topacio had passed away from pneumonia and complications from lung cancer, I was genuinely shocked. I did not know that he was diagnosed with lung cancer as reported by PDI.
During PETA’s 50th Anniversary in April he was in high spirits, hosting, singing on stage, I couldn’t imagine him being sick. Although I did notice he was wearing a hat that did hide the loss of his silver hair.
But during Philstage’s GAWAD BUHAY awards in May, I did notice he was more frail. He seemed less energetic and didn’t even bother to wear a hat. That night was special because they were able to give a glowing tribute to the work of the consummate thespian, teacher, writer and director of stage, TV and film.
A lot of credit should be given to PHILSTAGE Pres. Audie Gemora and the jury for having the foresight of giving him the NATATANGING GAWAD BUHAY award (Lifetime Achievement award). PHILSTAGE is an association which counts the most prestigious theater productions, dance groups and companies among its members. The PHILSTAGE jury consists of Vlad Bunoan, Gibbs Cadiz, Glenn Mas, Elka Requinta, Jovy Zarate, Ralph Galan, Steve Villaruz, Martin Lopez, Chantal Primero, Romano Jorge, Tats Manahan, Ricky Toledo, Chito Vijandre Cora Llamas, Vincent Gregory Yu, Fred Hawson and Philip Cu-Unjieng.
PETA was then able to produce an admirable tribute for that segment of the awards show. A wonderful script written by Phil Noble encapsulated Soxie’s colorful career. Which was brought to life by Norbs Portales, a young actor of PETA whom he had mentored. Norbs channeled his inner Soxie and portrayed the famous character Nene from DUPLEX and IT’S A DEAL. Shows that were enumerated by INTERAKSYON and also his most recent TV work.
Nene or Neneng is the Filipino term for young girl, while Soxie at the time (80s) was an overweight gay man. So his TV name alone was comedy gold. Norbs used the flamboyant voice that made Soxie famous complete with replacing ‘s’ with th and z’s much like a homosexual Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes.
We learned in such a casual, hilarious way how National Artist for film Lino Brocka was one of the people who helped Soxie break into TV and film. We learned how PETA founder Cecile Guidote-Alvarez inspired him and others to give of themselves and their art for the country.
We were laughing so hard that the message of his sacrifice and contributions went straight to our hearts. So it was really no surprise when the Ramon Magsaysay Awards considered as the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia, included among its awardees PETA- as an organization. The awardees were announced just this week, July 28. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Soxie Topacio passed away just over a week before.
God and man conspired to give Soxie a huge send off in recognition of his life and work. He would be so proud that PETA is honored in this way. He played no small part in that as member since 1969.
Included below is the tribute during the Gawad Buhay awards written by Phil Noble and co-written / performed by Norbs Portales as Nene (Soxie’s famous TV character). Immediately after the performance by Norbs he called Soxie on stage who sang ALAY NG LUMIKHA, one of the PETA anthems with playwright Rody Vera and a half dozen members.
Then also included below is Soxie’s acceptance speech where we learn from his own words his personal journey. He relates the experience of conducting (with other PETA members) acting workshops in war torn villages, victims and fighters for varying causes, even the urban poor. His speech puts everything into clear perspective. This is especially valid given Pres. Duterte’s most recent mindless, brash statement of ‘bombing Lumad schools’ as NPA sympathizers or hot bed of NPA recruitment. Soxie’s experiences in Cagayan De Oro and many other remote areas bring to light that they are themselves victims of violence.
Through his speech we find out exactly how and why PETA deserves the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Mother Soxie’s personal evolution and growth as teacher-artist is just one example of PETA’s mission.
Thank you to PHILSTAGE organizers of Gawad Buhay, Thank you Soxie Topacio, thank you and congratulations to PETA.
Read on enjoy, laugh, reflect and be inspired.
GAWAD BUHAY/PETA Tribute
Written by Phil Noble
Norbs Portales as Soxie in the role of Nene
Hoy! Saaay mooooh?
Diyan talaga ako na kilala ng buong Pilipinas. Bilang si Nene noong 80s sa DUPLEX. Oy ako lang naman ang baklang kapitbahay ni Ading Fernando, also known as Daddy Groovy. Pang Gulo! Chismosa!! Laging bisita wala akong bahaay. Ang saya.
Sa PETA talaga ako nagsimula. Fresh na fresh pa ko. Virgin na virgin. 17 years old ay ka tagal na yoon. Actually meron nagpakuha yung PETA meron daw event. Opening sa Paco park bibigyan ng award si Paul Dungol. Naku galit ako noon. Sabi ba naman ni Nonon Padilla, “Nasan na mga Putang Inang taga Araullo High School na yan?”
Aaay ayaw namin noon kami na inimbitahan kami pa yung minumura?
Pero ganoon talaga sa PETA murahan. Ayon we taped, we performed. Tapos nung nasa U.P. nako nakasalubong ko si Nonon Padilla. Eto nagmura sakin noon e.
Do you study here?
O yung minura mo dati! Ano?
If you have time and you want to audition go to the 4th floor.
Haaa? Na tense naman akooh! Na punta ako ng Fort Santiago. Na star struck ako kasi yung gaganap na artista kay Jose Rizal si Dindo Fernando! Si Josephine Bracken, si Rosemary Raj! Ha! Join akoh.
Since then I stayed. In one season ang dami kong ginawa: nag SM ako, nag Sound ako,
Nag Voice ako at nag artista ako. Lahat yan sabay sabay nakakaloka!
Ginagabi na kami, wala kaming sweldo. Humihingi lang ako ng pera sa Nanay at Tatay ko. Go!
Alam mo sunod sunod nakapag direk ako. Una ANG PIGING, 1973, at sunod sunod na. Mga memorable plays ko MAKLI-ING DULAG. Isipin niyo ha, sa opening scene pa lang sumisigaw na si Joel Lamangan, “Pumasok kayo! Pumasok kayo!”
Kaming mga audience Ha? Ha? Ha? Mga audience ka sali pala sa play!
Eto pa 1896 ang first true musical ng PETA. Pati si Ariel Rivera pina kanta ko!
MINSA’Y ISANG GAMO GAMO, first play ni Ate Guy. Pag pasok ba naman sa unang rehearsal, BOOM! Drop script na loka yung mga taga PETA di kinaya.
My friends in PETA sila talaga yung nagdala sakin sa mundo ng TV at pelikula.
Pano kamo e pag na busy sila, ENTER frame ako. Tumawag ang ABS ‘Yes hello busy po si direk Lino Brocka kayo lang po ang pwede pumalit sa kanya’. Tumawag ako kay Lino ano ito? Sabi naman ni Lino Brocka, “Oo lang ng oo tanggapin mo na.”
Sabi ko naman Ahh Ok sige. At nakapag sunod sunod na. Nakapag direk ako BABAE. Sunod sunod na sa TV kay Rosa Rosal, Tanghalan at nakapag direk na rin ako sa pelikula.
Favorite ko siyempre DED NA SI LOLO na Oscar hehehe.
Kasi I have friends who gave me opportunities. And that made me.
Alam niyo? Si Lino talaga ang dahilan kung pano ako naging Executive Director ng PETA. Pano kamo? Sabi niya, Hatiin natin ang organisasyon hindi pwedeng one man rule lang. So ako, si Gardy (Labad), si Nonon ako yung Executive Director so after 2 years tumawag ba naman sakin. Hello Soxie, busy ako ikaw na bahala sa PETA ha? Tawag ka na lang pag kelangan niyo ng pera.
Nakaka LOKA! Haaay! Haay! Hay!
Pero ma kwento ko sa inyo. Mula sa pagiging stand up comedian, sa pagiging artista at sa pagiging director sa stage, sa TV, sa pelikula alam niyo kung ano ang inspirasyon koh? Ay mga bata kami sinabi ni Cecile sa amin:
“You only live once! Yan ba ang kontribusyon mo sa bayang ito???”
TI-NA-MA-AN akooh! HENDE ko naman na Entindihan! Asan na ngayon si Mama?
Nag eskapo sa Amerika na iwan kami. Na wa kami lahat. Kelangan ko tuloy sa workshop e di workshop sa Cebu, sa Escalante, sa mga manggagawa. Naka salamuha sa lahat ng uri ng tao.
Ay doon ko lang na realize di pala pwedeng sarili lang. Hindi pwedeng ka eskwela lang, di pwedeng kapit bahay lang. DAPAT buooong bayaan?
Simula noon yon ang pinahahawakan ko sa LAHAT ng mga gawain ko.
Ang sining ko ay para sa BAYAN KO.
At yon, yon ang panata ko.
Ako si Soxie Topacio, magandang gabi na lang sa inyooh!
AT tinatawagan ang totoong Soxie Topacio si Soxie Topacio!
Soxie Topacio acceptance speech for the NATATANGING GAWAD BUHAY AWARD
Nais kong pa salamatan ang Philstage for giving me this award. Ang piliin ka ng kapwa mo Theater artist ay isang malaking karangalan para sa akin. Nais ko ring pa salamatan ang lahat naging kasapi ng PETA noon hanggang ngayon. Dahil kayo ang humubog sa aking pagkatao. Gayun din ang mga workshop participants ng PETA sa mga nagdaang maraming taon.
Bukod sa PETA nais kong pa salamatan ang mga ibang theater groups na naka trabaho ko. Tulad ng Gantimpala, U.P. Rep, Teatro Tomasino, Sining Kambayoka, U.E. Dramatic Club, Kulturang Atin Foundation at marami pang iba.
Noong sumali ako sa PETA ay 17 years old ako. That was the year 1969. Noong panahon na yon ang U.P. Campus ay punong puno ng mga kaganapan. Kabikabilang boycott, mass action, walk out. Eto ang tinaguriang First quarter storm.
At sa gitna ng lahat ng mga rally na ito ay na saan ako?
Sa loob ng sinehan.
Hindi ako naging interesado sa political events na nangyayari sa bayan. Kasi ang alam ko lang, ang iniikutan ng buhay ko ang pamilya ko. Pero nung sumali ako sa PETA nagbago ang takbo ng buhay ko.
Tuwing nagrerehearse kami o kaya may hindi na gustohan ni Cecille Guidote. Lagi niyang sasabihin. “You only live once. And for that one life what is your contribution to your country?”
Matagal kong inisip ang mga sinabi ni Cecile. It took many years for me to discover the answer to it. When Cecile left we lost a leader who knows everything. What play to put up, where to get the funds, when will be the next workshop? Mabuti na lang through the help of other PETA members we were able to revive the company.
AT mula noon na assign nako ng PETA sa iba’t ibang workshop sa probinsya. Kami ni Brenda ay nagworkshop sa Cagayan De Oro sa liblib na pook sa kabundukan. Halos lahat ng participants namin ay na matayan ng ama, kapatid at ina. Sa araw ng workshop kami nga lang ang tao.
Pero pag dumating ng dilim ang dami ng tao sa paligid. Nang tinanong ko kung saan sila galing, sabi ng organizer mga NPA sila. Ang mga anak at kapatid nila ang mga estudyante ninyo. Kaya pala ganoon ka bigat ang mga kwento nila, sa improvisation.
Sa Kalinga Apayao ang mga estyudante namin ay patuloy ipinaglalaban na hwag itayo ang Chico Dam na maglulubog sa kanilang ancestral homes.
Sa Ilo ilo na turuan kami ng mga mangingisda paano awitan ang mga isda para madali silang mahuli.
Sa Smokey Mountain di ko akalain ganoon katatapang ang mga bata. Grabe mag mura at marami pang ibang workshop. Sa workshop di man sila naging artista, pero na bigyan sila ng pamamaraan para maisawalat nila ang ka nilang mga loobin. Na isasadula nila nag kanilang mga hinaing.
Na isip ko ito ba ang kasagutan sa tanong ni Cecile? Ang tumulong ako sa mga taong na aapi? Para magka boses sila at I realized hindi lang sa workshop ko na kita ang layuning kong ito.
Kahit sa mga dulang na gawa ko ay na bigyan ko sila ng boses. Sa JOE HILL binigyan ko ng laya ng manggagawa at masabi kanilang hinaing. Sa MAKLI-ING DULAG pinakita ko ang paglalaban ng mga Kalinga. Sa MARIANG ALIW na ipakita ang sakit at sama ng loob ng mga prostitute. Sa NOLI AT FILI DEKADA 2000, pinakita namin ang walang habas na sakuna na dulot ng illegal logging. At marami pang iba.
Dito sa mga dulang ito at mga workshop na ginawa ko ay na kita ko ang aking misyon sa buhay. Isang buhay na iaaalay ko para sa bayan. Pati sa pagdarasal ko ay para sa PETA at sa mga kasama. Noon ko na realize di lang political ang misyon ko, spiritual din. Again Maraming Salamat.
Makisama ka, hindi ka star dito: Why Soxie Topacio was Mother Soxie to All by Totel De Jesus
Theater pillar Soxie Topacio, 65, passes away by Gibbs Cadiz and Totel De Jesus
SALAMAT, SOXIE | Remembering Soxie Topacio, artist and entertainer by Edwin Sallan
Disbelief was going through Filipinos minds watching Senator Manny Pacquiao get overwhelmed by the aggressive, bigger Jeff Horn. From the opening bell Horn went right at him, forcing him to the ropes. It didn’t matter if the shots were inaccurate they came flying at him. The volume of body shots was also surprising. The body punches may have taken the sting off Manny’s attack especially in the later rounds.
We were so used to seeing him dominate his opponents we were all shocked to see him like this. In the first three rounds, I think he may have been trying to time a haymaker as Horn was coming in. So he wouldn’t lead, meaning try to punch ahead of Horn. It may have been his strategy to wait in the pocket for that perfect opening to land that killer left hook or right straight that had felled countless opponents in the past.
Just like that legendary knockout of Ricky Hatton who came surging at him. Manny caught him with that picture perfect left hook that sent him reeling to the canvas. The technique is deceptive it takes incredible, speed, timing and power for all of it to come together. The problem now Horn was getting ‘in’ and throwing punches before he could hit him with that perfect counter. Instead Manny was the one getting hit.
This made him look like he was pulling his punches. Was it mental or physical? We really don’t know. He looked tentative waiting for the counter. And after the first 3 rounds when this strategy wasn’t working, why wasn’t he able to adjust or change his game plan?
Enrique Gil for CLEAR Cool Sport Menthol
The moments when Pacquiao was forced to the ropes by Horn was also telling. Horn was just busier on the inside landing to the body, short punches to the face. In the past, he could just slip away using his footwork and head movement or even better punch his way out of the clinch. In close quarters Horn seemed to trap his arm and sneak in some damage. This is where the size and strength of the taller Aussie came to play. Before, against Antonio Margarito and legendary Oscar Dela Hoya or the more recent Rios and Alghieri, there were never any problems in the clinch. All of them are at least several inches taller. So prior to the fight, height and reach wasn’t deemed a factor.
While Manny did not suffer a knock down you could see his head getting thrown back from the punches. They were doing damage. For Pinoys who care for the People’s Champ it was painful to watch.
Tanduay Derek: Tanduay Rhum is the drink of choice for Derek Ramsay – from The One TVC
9th Round Comeback
Manny’s shining moment came in the 9th round, when he finally landed a combo and then another staggering Horn. The roles were suddenly reversed. Pacquiao had him on the run, trying to finish him off. Horn looked glassy eyed ready to tumble and buckle under the power. But he was able to survive and go back to his corner.
The damage was such that Referee Mark Nelson, said to him in the corner ““YOU’VE had enough. Show me something in this round or I’m stopping the fight.” If there was a moment Manny could comeback to win the fight it should have been the 10th round where fans thought he had the time to finish him off…but he didn’t. Horn recovered stood his ground and even resumed his attack through to the 11th and 12th rounds. At that point Horn had won more rounds and was ahead in the scorecards getting the win.
Unilever Phil tapped Steph Curry to endorse Rexona in basketball crazy Philippines
Questions come back to haunt MP, why didn’t he pursue those combos or was more aggressive earlier? If Horn was hurt in the 9th why couldn’t he put him away in the 10th or later rounds?
The simple and obvious answer is that age has finally caught up with our beloved hero. Filipinos have been in denial, including myself, believing him to be invincible and even immortal in the ring. For so long, the whole national psyche clung to his rising fortunes and triumphs. He’d lift up the spirits of his country 100 million people strong. It didn’t matter if it was Yolanda, typhoons, natural disasters, economic and political crises.
Nation’s Hopes and Dreams
The young Senator would literally BE THERE distributing relief coming from his own purse, whether it was an earthquake in Bohol or just giving away turkeys to Pinoys or the less fortunate in the U.S for Thanksgiving.
We didn’t even realize how much we’ve been relying on him as a people for so long. At 38 he could have called it quits years ago. But being the warrior that he is even he didn’t want to let it go. If there was anyone who’s worthy of a messianic complex it should be him.
He has shouldered the burden of a whole nation’s hopes and dreams for too long. I think, that’s why even if he is in literal pain he fights through it. He feels he has to fight for us even when he should obviously stop.
Long Term Damage
In boxing there’s only one certainty: you get hurt whether or not you win or lose.
Concussion damage to the head isn’t a mystery; it’s a medical fact. Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith in CONCUSSION) was saying something people didn’t want to hear. American football is a dangerous sport that has long-term effects on the human brain. His study points out the simple and obvious fact that our brains are encased in liquid. As the head experiences trauma the brain is jolted out of position and hits the skull causing massive damage. One can only imagine how much damage the human brain can take in the sport of boxing, where the head is punched over and over and over again…in one fight.
Retired football players years after their playing days exhibited symptoms of insanity, random violent behavior, voices in their head, endangering themselves and their family. One only has to look at what happened to our own former boxing champ in Rolando Navarete who is now in a pitiful state. Manny you’re the one giving dole outs to Navarete when he drops by your house in Gen San giving him food and money. You’ve seen the long-term damage that boxers can suffer from head trauma.
Because what makes our people great is what is in our hearts
The brutality that makes boxing beautiful also makes it dangerous. Buboy Fernandez, Freddie Roach, they’re all aware that you’re putting your life on the line each time you climb the ring. Roach said he’d be the one to ask you to retire if you lost against Horn. You could have quit when you were knocked out by Marquez and we supported you. You could have quit when you lost against Timothy Bradley and Mayweather and yet we still supported you.
Manny, you’ve transcended your sport you’re now a senator. Your MP Promotions has discovered Jerwin Ancajas who successfully defended his IBF Jr Bantamweight Belt in the undercard. This is the time for you to find new champions and impart your knowledge.
Let Go And Let God
You’ve taken a lot of punishment, thousands of punches throughout the years for us Filipinos. You can let go and let God steer your life in a new direction. That’s why now we have to say thank you, we love you, but we need you to fight for us in a different arena. We know you want to be president and may want to earn your war chest through the sweat of your brow, unlike your politician friends.
But whether you’re a Senator, a President or citizen Pacquiao we know you’ll fight for us. And you need a clear and healthy mind to do so. You had a great run Manny some say the greatest ever now its time to move on.
You’ve shown that win or lose you congratulate your opponent with a hug. You always manage a smile for our people through the most difficult times. This is the heart or puso of the Filipino. A sentiment embodied in a song by Lea Salonga, Bamboo and Sarah Geronimo:
Babangon sa bawat pagkakataon
Ngingiti anu man ang panahon
Lilipad para abutin ang lahat
Pusong walang pagod tumanggap
Nagniningning sa gilas
Written and photographed
by Jude Bautista
These are four talented, skillful individuals who won in the 9th Gawad Buhay Awards Night last May 10, 2017 at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines:
Jef Flores-Male Lead Performance in a Musical
(TICK, TICK…BOOM from 9 Works Theatrical),
Menchu Lauchengco Yulo-Female Featured Performance in a Musical
(ANNIE- Resort’s World Manila/Full House Theater Company),
Myke Salomon-Outstanding Musical Direction
(3 Stars and a Sun from PETA) and
John Batalla-Outstanding Lighting Design
(ALMOST, MAINE from Repertory Philippines).
Fortunately for the public the amazing work by these four awardees can be seen in one currently running musical in GODSPELL. Children and fathers who want to make Mom happy can bring her to the show this Mother’s Day. GODSPELL has 8PM shows on May 6, 12, 13, 19 & 20. And there are 3PM shows on May 7, 14 & 21, all at the Carlos P Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza.
This is a very entertaining musical, which poses the question: is Christ’s work and deeds relevant in a chaotic modern world? Don’t let the subject matter intimidate it actually helps audiences understand the gospel and puts it into music that moves the very soul. Even kids are encouraged to watch.
Jef Flores is in the lead role as Jesus. Myke Salomon is both John the Baptist and Judas while winning an award as a Musical Director. Menchu Lauchengco Yulo shows her vocal range while being the Artistic Director in Resorts World Manila. The only non-actor among them is Lighting Director John Batalla whose work is literally seen throughout GODSPELL.
One might wonder how, the awards slipped past such a star-studded show, especially since this is the second run since last year. This is because the Gawad Buhay award is only given to productions of organizations that are members of PHILSTAGE. Perhaps this will help motivate MUSIC ARTES, the producers of GODSPELL to join PHILSTAGE in the future, soon hopefully. As anyone can see that this version is definitely worthy of a few awards.
PHILSTAGE members include:
9 Works Theatrical, Actor’s Actors Inc., Ballet Manila, Ballet Philippines, Culturtrain Musical Productions Inc., Gantimpala Theater Foundation, Full House Theater Company, Philippine Educational Theater Association, Philippine Ballet Theatre, Philippine Opera Company, Repertory Philippines, Red Turnip Theater, Stages, Tanghalang Pilipino, Trumpets
Vitus (Fabrizio Borsani) at age 6 resented having a babysitter. Isabelle (Kristina Lykowa) was barely just a child at 12. His mom Helen (Julika Jenkins) told her to let him practice the piano by himself. Seeing her he just passes his hand through the keys and ignores her on his way to his room to read. Isabelle follows him to his bedroom. “Did you know I made this bat for you when you were just a baby?” then pointing to his favorite toy. “Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?” Vitus shakes his head and says ‘No’ with a beaming smile she says, “I want to be a rock singer!”
Next thing you know, Vitus is playing the piano while Isabelle is lip syncing to a song blaring on the radio. When parents Leo (Urs Jucker) and Helen come home, they see them asleep in each other’s arms on the sofa. The next day Vitus tells his grandfather (Bruno Ganz), “I know who I’m going to marry.”
VITUS is only one of several movies that will be shown in the Swiss Family Film Festival at Shang Cineplex, Shang Rila Plaza Mall for free on a first come first served basis. The fest will be held on the weekends of April 28-30 and May 5-7, 2017. The festival is part of the 60th Anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Philippines.
It has won Best Feature from the Chicago international Film Festival and Best Picture in the Swiss Film Prize for Writer Director Fredi M. Muhrer.
Vitus is a child prodigy with an IQ of 180 and being able to play Bach as a toddler. He was bored in school, often too advanced for the curriculum. Even when he was accelerated joining college at 14, he was reading a newspaper in the middle of class. His professor asked him to solve a math problem, computing bank interest earnings. Vitus solved it twice as fast as his classmates who used calculators.
The problem wasn’t his intelligence but rather his emotional quotient. People around him like classmates, older students tend to hate and bully him. Although he did love music and the piano there was this growing pressure to live up to his potential. There was this need in him to be a normal everyday kid who just wants to play and be with others his own age. Little do they know, Vitus’ talents and abilities go much farther and wider than just being a piano prodigy.
All children can relate with Vitus, while education and developing his talent is important, love, affection and understanding can be more uplifting. This is where his grandfather played by Bruno Ganz, has had a tremendous influence on him. He is the one who nurtures a sense of adventure and the creative side in the child.
A cabinetmaker by profession, he never fails to bring flowers to Vitus’ pretty mom Helen. He loves to play chess with his grandson and has shared his obsession with planes and becoming a pilot. In fact he wrote love letters to his late wife by tying them to a balloon and has Vitus release them to the sky. “I used to write love letters to Anne Marie, now I write to the beautiful woman who sits across from me in the train, the glistening lake, the peach tree that gives me shade and the lovely figure skater on TV.”
Bruno Ganz is one of the most established Swiss actors, having starred in countless roles from UNKNOWN with Liam Neeson in 2011 to playing Adolf Hitler in DOWNFALL (2005). One of Ganz’ most recent hit (also as the grandfather) is HEIDI (2015) which is part of the Swiss Family Film Festival. This live action film from the classic Swiss novel written by Johanna Spyri is sure to be enjoyed by the whole family.
Playing the 12-year-old Vitus is real life piano prodigy Teo Gheorghiu. For his performance he won Best Male Debut from the Undine Awards in Austria. Gheorghiu, looks like a young Christian Bale in the film EMPIRE OF THE SUN. These days he has concentrated more on his music than his acting career.
Since starring in the film Gheorghiu has truly become an international classical artist. He has played in ‘London (Queen Elisabeth Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, Royal Albert Hall), New York, Paris, Tokyo, Zurich, St Petersburg, Madrid and Prague. He has performed with orchestras including Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Bern Symphonie Orchester, Sinfonica de Bilbao, Orquestra Filamonica de Minas Gerais, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Müncher Symphoniker.’ From official website.
One of the elements that make this film great is its ability to open classical music to a wider audience. When you see a brilliant 12 year old execute Mozart’s ‘Rondo a-Moll KV 511’ or Franz Liszt’s ‘Ungarische Rhapsodie Nr. 6’. There’s no denying the power and emotion of the music especially when he’s playing it with passion and love, which he had to journey so he could discover it himself.
Those who are already fans of classical music will enjoy them even more: ‘Der wilde Reiter’ by Robert Schumann, ‘Alborada del gracioso’ by Maurice Ravel, ‘Goldberg Variationen (29, 30, Aria)’ by Bach and the list goes on. Incidentally, the rock song Isabelle lip-synced from the radio that made Vitus fall in love with her is a Tina Turner original entitled ‘Nutbush City Limits’.
In a way Gheorghiu has fulfilled his film character’s ambition in real life by becoming the international classical artist that he is today. VITUS should be viewed by anyone at any age, so you can be inspired to pursue your dreams in your own way.
For those who love me
Mia (Emma Stone) stopped Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in his tracks with what she said next. Mia: We might as well get this out of the way–I hate jazz… You ok? He immediately takes her to a smoky jazz club. Seb: It’s just that when people say they hate jazz they don’t have context. They don’t know where it comes from. Jazz was born in a little flophouse in New Orleans. People were crammed in there spoke five different languages. The only way they could communicate was with jazz.
Mia: But what about Kenny G? What about elevator music? You know jazz music that I know? Seb: What about it? Mia: I find it relaxing. Seb: It’s not relaxing. It’s not. It’s not. Sidney Bechet shot somebody because he was told he played a wrong note. It’s hardly relaxing. Mia: In where I grew up there’s this station called KJAZZ 103. People just put on that station when they had a cocktail party. And everyone would just talk over it.
Seb: I know I think that’s part of the problem. You have to hear it. You have to see what’s at stake. Look at the sax player he just hijacked the song. He’s in his own trip. Every one of these guys they’re composing they’re rearranging. They’re writing and playing the melody. Now look the trumpet player he has his own idea. It’s conflict and its compromise. Its new every time. It’s brand new every night. It’s very, very exciting. And it’s dying. It’s dying Mia. And the world says let it die. It had its time. Not on my watch.
Mia and Seb at first glance aren’t remarkable people. What they do have in common is that they live for their dreams. It’s almost impossible not to fall in love with them when you see their eyes light up talking about their passions.
Mia is obsessed with old Hollywood. She sleeps under the gaze of Ingrid Bergman whose image is the size of her bedroom wall. Her love for movies inspired her to become an actress. Meanwhile she’s a barista at the Warner Brothers lot, which has a lot of film history.
Sebastian or Seb for short is an extremely talented musician but is having a hard time making ends meet. He finds difficulty in compromising his art and passion for jazz. There’s a huge gap between what he wants to do and the music that he’s paid to play in his gigs.
Hollywood isn’t just about fame and fortune, although it doesn’t hurt having them. LA LA LAND shows that Hollywood is still about having a dream and going after it against all odds. Theirs is the struggle of thousands of Angelenos, dreamers searching for that big break. That’s why the story is so inspiring and entertaining in the most classical sense. They made old Hollywood come alive and relevant in a magical way. They harkened to a time when musicals were king and was considered the best way to tell the story. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and the recently passed Debbie Reynolds would be proud of the song and dance work in LALALAND.
Featurette- homage to Musicals – filmaker’s own words
Millennials who are not able to relate with Hollywood’s glory days are given a lyrical and eloquent introduction. Hopefully they’re infected with the same passion that Mia grew up with and was inspired by. After all movies like CASABLANCA, BRINGING UP BABY and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE are now just a YouTube click away.
Vocals and Choreography
It’s hard not to fall in love with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. They have that combination of adorable and sexy as a couple. Their previous rom com CRAZY STUPID LOVE with Steve Carrell and Julianne Moore was a hilarious hit. They were also a pair for period film GANGSTER SQUAD. Gosling though, could be seen more as the top romantic lead after THE NOTEBOOK with Rachel McAdams.
Their vocals weren’t spectacular but were definitely moving. Neither of them may not necessarily be the next Luciano Pavarotti nor even to the level of co-star and executive producer John Legend. But both of them sang with such sincerity that audiences can’t help but be drawn to their performances. There’s the longing in CITY OF STARS by Gosling and heartfelt AUDITION (The Fools Who Dream) by Emma Stone. Of course John Legend had his stellar START A FIRE performed in a huge concert scene.
START A FIRE performed by John Legend
Where Gosling truly shines is his newly acquired skill on the piano. He trained for 3 months and called it “his most fulfilling pre-production experience”. John Legend (known for his piano playing) in turn also had to learn the electric guitar as Keith.
Ryan and Emma also excelled in the dance portions with choreography that paid homage to the sequences from SINGING IN THE RAIN and other classics. The sequence in A LOVELY NIGHT where it was just Mia & Seb during sunset was memorable although not as complex as the others.
A LOVELY NIGHT
Mandy Moore Cameo?
There was some confusion when Writer Director Damien Chazelle credited Mandy Moore as choreographer during his Best Director acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. It turns out that their choreographer Mandy Moore is the (exact) namesake of the pop star. Mandy, the actress/singer, is currently starring in the TV show THIS IS US. She also had a concert here in EASTWOOD CITY MALL (Quezon City, Philippines) last 2008. Her hits include: I WANNA BE WITH YOU, CRY and performed the official soundtrack I SEE THE LIGHT for Disney’s TANGLED.
The choreographer / professional dancer Mandy Moore is no slouch having worked on SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, AMERICAN HUSTLE, JOY and TV shows SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and DANCING WITH THE STARS. She is one of many creative people like composer/ film scorer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and cinematographer Linus Sandgren who have made LALALAND the award winning film that it is. Screenwriter and director Damien Chazelle also wrote the lyrics for the song IT HAPPENED AT DAWN.
Almost throughout the movie Mia goes from one dehumanizing audition after another. Although the story celebrates the history and glory of Hollywood, it also sheds light on some the negative aspects. The challenge of the audition is something that all performers go through. Lili Tomlin during her acceptance speech for Screen Actors Guild -Lifetime Achievement, said she’d accept any part as long as she didn’t have to audition. That same night Emma Stone won for Best Actress; it was one of several for her and Ryan Gosling.
LA LA LAND is one of the favorites in the upcoming Oscars after earning 14 nominations. They’ve nearly swept every major category in the GOLDEN GLOBES: Best Picture Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Ryan Gosling, Best Actress – Emma Stone, Best Director / Best Screenplay Damien Chazelle, Best Original Song – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Pau and Best Musical Score- Justin Hurwitz. The number of trophies from International and U.S. based awards are too many to mention such as the Director’s Guild of America etc. listed here.
Film History & L.A. Landmarks
In one of the early scenes, her friends in a late night party abandon Mia and she has to make her way home by herself. She passes by a mural and the camera reveals the faces of screen legends albeit in a humorous way: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, child star Shirley Temple sits on the lap of W.C. Fields (who reportedly hated children). The wall Mia passes is a real location: YOU ARE THE STAR MURAL on 1648 Wilcox Ave and Hollywood Boulevard. Artist Thomas Suriya completed it in 1983 and was restored by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles in 1995.
Production designer Dave Wasco encapsulated the emphasis on location and history when he said, “It was an opportunity to do a movie about a place we deeply loved”. Dave along with wife Sandy Reynolds-Wasco has already won Best Production Design for LA LA LAND from the Art Director’s Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards and Georgia Film Critics Association along with a nomination in the Oscars and BAFTA.
There are so many ways that Chazelle honors the past, the places that Mia & Seb visit around L.A. are landmarks that have been made famous by the movies. There’s the Griffith Observatory (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, THE TERMINATOR, TRANSFORMERS), The Light House Café where they shot the jazz club scene is near Hermosa Beach and was made famous by Miles Davis. Check out the list with photos of film locations made by Conde Nast Traveller here.
After more than a century of filmmaking, Hollywood is still a city of dreamers that can still make you fall in love. As Mia sings in Audition (The Fools Who Dream)–
“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?
And that’s why they need us”
So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles
The painters, and poets, and plays
And here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make
AUDITION (The Fools Who Dream)